Question: Are you supposed to laugh at a horror movie? Granted, if there’s a funny scene in a horror movie or if the movie is a horror-comedy, it might be fine to laugh. But if the movie is straightforward, stacked with scenes and atmosphere meant only to frighten people and haunt their nightmares yet has moments that instead make audience members genuinely laugh out loud in the theatre after finding those moments funny, does it fail as a horror movie? Here’s a follow-up: in an era of film where horror has reached such impressive feats like The Witch, It Comes at Night and Get Out, should audiences laughing at horror movies still be a problem?
Apparently it still is, given the audience groaning and cackling during most of the 90 minutes of Wish Upon. The title suggests to make wishes on a old Chinese music box given to nerdy high school painter Clare (Joey King) by her dumpster diver father (Ryan Phillippe). Clare starts making routine wishes: popularity, a cute boy to love her, ill will on a bully, the works. But every time she makes a wish, someone close to her dies from a tragic accident. A classmate (Ki Hong Lee) translates the Chinese lettering to reveal its blood debt, but Clare just can’t seem to let it go the worse the “accidents” get.
Director John R. Leonetti (Annabelle, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) doesn’t exactly have a optimistic track record. Leonetti, more prominently known as a cinematographer on some of the most popular horror movies of the decade, including The Conjuring, Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2, is clearly out of his depth. Those movies (and most horror movies) are usually required to have dark lighting and some grim cinematography, but it should merely complement the aesthetic of the movie. Wish Upon, on the other hand, is one of the most distractingly darkly shot movies ever. It would be easy to blame cinematographer Michael Galbraith (Being Erica) for this ugly and bland look, but Leonetti’s experience with James Wan’s movies are a bit too hard to ignore.
That look is the first and, quite frankly, only notable thing about Wish Upon, a boring and rather goofy mashup of the mythical elements of Death Note with the contrived “accidental” deaths of Final Destination. It’s horror is uninspired, the story is predictable, the characters are either stereotypes of high school characters from a Disney Channel Original Movie or just plain boring. Maybe if the movie was rated R instead of the safe PG-13 (so teens could see it and the studio can make its money back) it would have more gruesome and entertaining deaths. Instead, the movie “cleverly” skirts around that by using splatters of black liquid as a substitute for blood and bodies covered in darkness quickly cut in editing to be seen and forgotten in the blink of an eye. Joey King borders between mildly-invested and comically obsessed with preserving the musical box like she’s Gollum from Lord of the Rings.
Wish Upon is another example of everything wrong with horror movies: too safe to be scary, too boring to be worthy of interest, and too hilariously obvious to be taken seriously. When talking about movies this bad, it’s better to invest the same amount of effort into the deliberation of it that the filmmakers put into making it. So since this was made with little to no effort, there should be little to no effort put into believing it. It’s just better to wish it away.